The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., improved its research and breeding operations in 2011 through the completion of two state-of-the-art facilities for the study and conservation of two endangered species: the red panda and the clouded leopard. The new facilities are located at the 3,200-acre facility, which accommodated the construction of large, private enclosures that encourage natural behaviors in the animals.
- The original building where the red pandas and clouded leopards were held was constructed in 1915 as a cavalry stable. The new clouded leopard and red panda breeding facilities will allow additional scientific research and are expected to boost reproduction rates.
- The clouded leopard facility has five outdoor “pods.” Each pod is comprised of a heated building with three indoor enclosures. The two main indoor enclosures each contain ceiling level windows to increase natural light. Each building is connected to two 20-foot-tall wire “corncribs”, by wire tunnels, to provide each clouded leopard with a large outdoor living space. The corncribs have plenty of wooden logs for climbing—a natural pastime for clouded leopards living in the wild. In total, each pod provides a single pair of clouded leopards almost 11,000 square feet of space.
- The indoor enclosures for the clouded leopard are designed for safer pairing of animals for breeding. Male clouded leopards can be aggressive towards females during breeding, sometimes even causing injury and death. SCBI staff will use the new facility to continue introducing males and females at a very young age, increasing the chance of successful breeding.
- The red panda facility has nine outdoor corncribs and is equipped with numerous insulated dens. Safety enclosures have been incorporated and. The red pandas also have climbing logs for exercise and elevated perches to rest on and view the woods and adjacent valley area. As part of SCBI’s dedication to sustainable practices, about 90 percent of the materials used for constructing the red panda facility was recycled from the original facility. Each pod provides a pair of red pandas more than 1,040 square feet. With the exception of the concrete base and the connecting safety entrance, the corn cribs were recycled from existing red panda and clouded leopard cages.
- Both clouded leopards and red pandas are sensitive to human disturbance and stress, especially during breeding season, partition, and raising cubs. The new breeding facility is nestled in a patch of woods to give the animals privacy. Scientific staff is confident that the new facilities will encourage more breeding, as well as encourage females to raise their young without human interference. The woods that are near the outdoor enclosures will also provide enrichment for both species, as they will be able to watch abundant native wildlife.
- The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is world renowned for its research and conservation programs with these two species, having produced more than 70 clouded leopard and 80 red panda offspring in over 25 years. The offspring are distributed to other zoos accredited by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums and researchers use the information they learn to improve breeding programs throughout the world, including in the range countries of Thailand, China, and Nepal.
- Red pandas are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and live in Nepal, India, Bhutan and southern China. Their biggest threats include habitat loss and fragmentation and poaching.
- Clouded leopards are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and live in a range that spans from the Himalayan foothills in Nepal through the mainland of southeast Asia into China. Their habitat in southeast Asia is undergoing the world’s fastest deforestation rate. They are also hunted for the illegal wildlife trade, according to the IUCN.
- The creation and building of the SCBI’s clouded leopard breeding facility was the vision of the late Dr. JoGayle Howard, an SCBI scientist who worked tirelessly to understand the biology of this endangered species and to improve its breeding and conservation. Howard wrote many articles on the reproductive physiology of clouded leopards, initiated a successful captive breeding program in the range country of Thailand that has produced more than 55 cubs and raised funds for protecting the species in the wild.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute serves as an umbrella for the Smithsonian Institution’s global effort to understand and conserve species and train future generations of conservationists. Headquartered in Front Royal, Va., SCBI facilitates and promotes research programs based at Front Royal, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and at field research stations and training sites worldwide.